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JoyBinge Podcast Ep. 8: First News Only Episode!

Listen to the episode here or on SoundCloud through the links below!

Listen to the episode here!

Listen to the last episode here!

Hi and welcome to JoyBinge, a podcast where we re-learn that good things are happening in the world and celebrate those good things because we are tired of only hearing about the bad crap. My name is Kimmy Mauldin and I am not a journalist or a professional of any sort in the news industry. I’m just a Texas girl in need of some happy news and want to share what I find. Let’s binge on some joy!

You may have already noticed that this episode is a bit shorter than others I’ve posted. During last week’s episode, I felt like too much was packed in and realized that I’ve been thinking this since the start. I love sharing all the different stuff I find throughout the week but it’s a lot. Which is a great thing! So I think this week we will just do a news episode and if I’m able to find some things to share in an non-news related episode, and get it written, recorded, and edited in time, I will post that separately. Follow me on Twitter @joybingepodcast to see any updates about a potential non-news episode but as of now, I will just focus on the news.


Violin maker in Palestine brings sweet sounds to troubled landscape

Our first story today comes from Palestine where Shehada Shalalda is making some sweet music for the people there. Monica Pelliccia brings us this article through The Guardian’s The Upside on October 25th.

Some of the most moving and prolific music has been created out of great pain and struggle. But music has always been used to tell stories of love, progress, sorrow, and tragedy. It has been used to make people laugh, cry, and come together. Music is one way people express their experiences, express themselves really, and we need it. Like other art forms, music is a way to breathe life back into lifeless situations.

Shahada Shalalda recognizes the important role music plays. He is a luthier, specifically one who makes and fixes violins for Palestine and people stuck in refugee camps. Growing up in Ramallah, Shalalda was used to the checkpoints and soldiers he saw in his streets every day. But one day, he overheard someone practicing the violin at a new music school by his home. Hearing this instrument opened something in him that led to a beautiful life he may not have pursued otherwise.

Now Shalalda is one of few, if not the only, violin luthiers in Palestine. Pelliccia quotes him as saying, “I grew up in the middle of a war zone. I didn’t think I would survive. Making violins offered me a way to remain alive. It was a chance to see the world and do something for my community: bringing peace through music.”

After studying how to make and fix various instruments at the Al Kamandjati music school in the West Bank, Shalalda studied in Florence, Italy then at Newark School of Violin Making in the UK. In 2012, he returned to Ramallah to open up a workshop at the school where the magic first started.

Back home, Shalalda has been able to make a good life for him and his family. He sells his violins around the world and was even able to enter the first violin made in Palestine to the International Triennale Violin Making Competition Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy. This is a big deal in the world of music.

But most importantly, Shalalda decided to use his talents to help lift the spirits of those caught in the middle of the war torn Middle East. Working in refugee camps in Ramallah, Shalalda has seen first hand the experiences refugees live with every day. He has worked in Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon and plans to work in Gaza City, if he can get permission to do so. He is quoted as saying, “The refugees have no potable water, no electricity. They are not allowed to work. Music is an important tool to express their feelings, as a universal language.”

Gaza City should only be about an hour in the car for Shalalda but because of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, he won’t be able to drive through Israel to get there. Instead he will have to fly to Egypt then drive, taking a one hour trip to be an all day affair. The biggest issue he faces though is his return trip home. There is a chance the Israeli border would be closed down, not allowing him to return to his family in the West Bank.

But his passion lives on. Pelliccia ends her article beautifully with Shalalda stating, “Music is a powerful instrument of peace. I won’t stop building bridges between cultures thanks to these beautiful instruments, violins.”

Ethiopia Gets Its 1st Female President

Let’s travel about 2,800 miles south of Lebanon for our next story. Sahle-Work Zewde was appointed Ethiopia’s first female president last week. Laurel Wamsley brings us this news through NPR on October 25th.

Being the first woman in any governmental role is not new to Zewde. She was chosen to be the special representative to the African Union and head of the U.N. Office to the African Union in June by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. This position had only been held by men before her. But Zewde has worked long and hard to be in the position she is now.

Let’s learn more about Zewde’s work past to better appreciate her new role. Elias Gebreselassie walks through her diplomacy background in his article from Al Jazeera. After working over 30 years in Ethiopian diplomacy, Zewde has finally overcome one of the highest positions in their government, which is being celebrated as a big accomplishment for women’s equality in Ethiopia. She started out as “Ethiopia’s ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development...[which is] a regional trade bloc in East Africa.” Wamsley reports she was also the director-general of the U.N. Office at Nairobi at one time. Zewde went to school in France before working and is fluent in Amharic, her native language, as well as French and English.

Wamsley quotes a tweet from Fitsum Arega who is the chief of staff to the prime minister’s office in Ethiopia as saying, “A career diplomat & senior official at the UN, she brings the right competence & experience to the office. In a patriarchal society such as ours, the appointment of a female head of state not only sets the standard for the future but also normalises women as decision-makers in public life.” Zewde is promising to make female empowerment a big focus of her tenure. Gebreselassie quotes her in his article as saying at her swearing-in ceremony, “I know today I have said a lot about female empowerment, but expect me to be even more vocal in the coming years about female rights and equality.”

Many are saying that being president is largely a ceremonial role in the Ethiopian government. However, the responsibilities Zewde now has include “appointing ambassadors, receiving foreign envoys and granting pardons,” according to Wamsley. But getting to this role required having men who value women in powerful positions as well. Just one week prior to Zewde’s appointment, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reconstructed the Cabinet with women in mind. He cut Cabinet spots from 28 to 20 and made sure that half of the positions are held by women. Wamsley reports that, “Women now fill the two most prominent Cabinet positions: minister of defense and the newly created minister of peace, who oversees the intelligence and security forces.”

While this is a huge step forward for Ethiopia, more work is needed to ensure the equality hits the streets as well. As we now know, Zewde is dedicated to raising the awareness and normalization of women’s rights and equality across her beautiful country, which she has been doing all along.

This entrepreneur with Down syndrome is generating $500,000 in sales

Collette Divitto is another leader challenging the status quo in terms of equality and respect. Opening a cookie store called Collettey’s Cookies is the method she chose to show how people with disabilities are useful and needed in our workforce. Jade Scipioni wrote an article with a beautiful video about Collette for FOX News on October 26th.

Several years ago, Collette was heavily discouraged in her search for a job. She applied at numerous bakeries in Boston where she lives, only to receive emails claiming she “was not a good fit.” So what did she do? She worked with her family to open her own bakery and called it Collettey’s Cookies. Now, two years later, she is raking in half a million dollars and has hired other people to work for her.

Rosemary Alfredo, Collette’s mother, said in the video included with the article, “...So [the cookie company was] really birthed by looking at rejection and how can we empower Collette and what are her skills and what are the things she enjoys doing that she is good at? And it was baking.”

Collette is 28 years old, has Down syndrome, and now has thirteen people working in her bakery. Half of her employees have disabilities and are succeeding as she knew they would. Collette says, “I feel really proud. I feel proud just to have my own business. Having more people that can work for me makes me feel confident and happy.”

The video shows them making a cinnamon chocolate chip cookie, and I won’t lie, I can’t stop thinking about how amazing that must taste. I need to get to Boston. Apparently others feel the same way as Alfredo told Scipioni that they keep getting calls asking about franchises for Collettey’s Cookies in other states. As Collette says, the secret to her success is all about “cinnamon and love.”

Alfredo talks about her daughter in the video, saying, “She is very empowered. And the most beautiful part about it is along the way of all of that, and success happening for her, she can’t stop thinking about where she was and all of the other 40+ million kids that are stuck there that people won’t hire that are very capable like herself. So I think she has realized that this is bigger than just her cookie company. It’s now about her becoming kind of a fierce leader and advocate for this community.”

What Drives an Elite 'Super Tutor'?

Learning and growing is a huge part of developing joy. When you face a circumstance that puts fear in heart, what do you do? You turn to what you’ve learned, you turn to people who have faced similar things or to those who you can count on for support. Some of the strongest forms of support many of us have encountered at one point or another is through a teacher. My mother was a teacher, her parents and my dad’s mom were all teachers. My family has a strong history in teaching. So today, I am excited to talk about the booming business of tutoring, why it’s developed so strongly, and who is involved. BBC’s Philippa Fogarty wrote about ‘Super Tutors’ on October 22nd.

Over the last couple of decades, the world of tutoring has grown and changed rather dramatically. According to the article, “One forecast says it will be worth $227 billion by 2022, fuelled by growth in Asia and developments in online tutoring, like firms connecting students with tutors all over the world. The industry is largely unregulated and there are all kinds of providers: freelancers, cram schools, large chains, online services, bespoke agencies and more.”

Now, the term, “super tutor” has come into play describing a small amount of tutors paid lots of money to teach. Not all of these “super tutors” have the same methods, way of living, or style of teaching. And several of these “super tutors” reject the term completely.

Fogarty focuses on several tutors in her article, one of whom is Adam Caller. He believes the term plays on parents’ fear of students failing, hoping for someone to magically come in and save the day. He says what really matters is what happens for the student. Caller founded Tutors International, a firm in London that hires out full-time tutors to families who can afford the high cost. Apparently they advertise a six-figure salary for those looking to tutor in the US, Bermuda, Luxembourg, and Hong Kong.

According to the article, “He hires only qualified teachers (unless the client requests otherwise) and his roles can come with specific requirements - extra languages, music or sports, experience with troubled children or learning difficulties.” If only all firms required such expertise. He says, “If there was such a thing as a ‘Chartered Tutor’, whereby their professionalism, their knowledge, their professional development - the normal things that you measure professionals by - was being applied to the tutoring industry, that would be superb.”

Melissa Lehan is a tutor who works for families through Caller’s Tutor International firm. She is one dubbed a “super tutor” and has worked all over the world with various students. Having tutored students in a homeschool like environment for 10 years, Lehan told Fogarty that the true joy of what she does comes from the relationships she develops with the students themselves, and curating the curriculum to serve the student she is working with directly. She is quoted as saying, “Clicking and helping that one child - knowing them so well that you know what they’re going to learn and what’s going to help them - is what keeps me going.”

What is impressive about Lehan is that she doesn’t just teach one subject as many tutors do. Fogarty says, “She’s a languages graduate with a love of maths, but early on, mastering the sciences posed a challenge. In her first job, she worked non-stop to make sure she was across the curriculum.” Lehan goes on to describe how much extra time she had to pour into mastering chemistry as many of the other subjects came to her much more easily. Beyond just knowing the knowledge itself, she also has to master the teaching side: prepping lessons, tests, and quizzes, planning what to move on to next, knowing where the student needs to be in order to prepare for specific national examinations depending on where the child is from. Lehan says, “You’re planning to make sure it’s working specifically for your pupil and that means, once you’ve got your plans, reviewing how something goes and then making adjustments, also just making it enjoyable for the individual pupil.”

Anthony Fok is another tutor Fogarty interviews. He highlights the amount of work it takes to be a truly impactful tutor. In Singapore, he teaches “group classes for students preparing for A-level economics, for entry into local and overseas universities.” He also has written books on economics, studies to keep up on the subject himself, keeps up with exam trends, and keeps in contact with students who have questions about the subject. His big motivator is not sacrificing quality of his teaching for money, which is easy to do in the tutoring industry. He is quoted as saying, “Tutors should be genuinely passionate about teaching and put in your 100% effort in helping your students improve. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Hard work, hard work and hard work.”

The best example of him living his words out comes from the story where one time, a parent offered him $20,000 SGD (Singapore Dollars) to tutor their child for an A grade on an exam - just one month before the exam was to take place. He turned it down, telling Fogarty, “It is not possible to perform miracles at the last minute. The first difficulty is that parents think that money solves all problems. But it’s not true!”

Matthew Larriva supports what Fok discusses in terms of the hard work required to support tutoring. He says, “It requires constant prep, travel and marketing to make it into an engagement where you can charge $600 an hour. And once you’re in the door, it’s grueling work during nights, weekends and holidays trying to play educator to the student, counsellor to the parents and mediator between the family.”

Larriva tutors students on an individual basis, preparing for the SAT and ACT exams here in the United States. These exams are often required for applying to universities and colleges. Since he started tutoring in 2011, his workload has changed quite a bit. He opened his own test-prep agency and now writes books, matches students with other tutors, gives presentations, and only tutors a couple students himself. Fogarty states, “As for the ‘super tutor’ concept, Larriva says he doesn’t mind people getting publicity as long as their results are in line with their marketing,” which I honestly feel like is pretty fair.

Overall, making sure your child has a chance at understanding their studies is a great gift you can give them. We all learn in such different ways with various talents so assisting your student any way you can is good. My own parents took time out of their day to help me as much as they could and when I needed extra support beyond that, they looked around to find people who could truly assist me. I will never forget the personal interest my parents held not just in my education but for my sister and brother as well, will always serve as a role model of how I should help my own future family. The biggest take away from this article is make sure you research potential tutors, take time to interview them, budget for whatever costs might be required, and treat them with respect. Education is the biggest key to unlocking the future for you child so make sure to take this seriously. And tutoring isn’t just about learning subjects, it’s about learning skills in thinking and applying knowledge, learning how to ask for help, and developing relationships between trusted teachers and students. Good luck with your own students and happy studying!

Slice of Texas

Hugo Ortega's Recipe For Success

In today’s Slice of Texas, we turn once again to the Texas Optimism Project, a project from TexasMonthly and Frost Bank sharing how Texans develop and use optimism to progress in life. Dyar Bentz is our Optimism Correspondent speaking with Hugo Ortega, a chef and restaurateur in Houston.

Hugo is the executive chef and co-owner of four Houston top restaurants: Backstreet Cafe, Hugo’s, Caracol, and Xochi. He even won the 2017 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwestern award! Born in Mexico City, Ortega’s family moved out to the countryside in Oaxaca where he worked as a goat herder until he was an older teenager. He tells Bentz, “It was an incredible time in my life. Probably the most exciting and unique period. You just had to be part of what happened on a daily basis, and I ended up helping my grandmother.”

“My grandmother lost her husband at the tender age of 19, so she was a powerhouse. Very independent, very driven, nothing was impossible for her. We’d get up around 5:30 in the morning, put clay jars on my donkey, and we’d go down the hill and bring water for two hours solid. I was also a goat herder. I’d take close to 300 goats to the mountains for the day, come back around three, take the goats to drink water at the river, and then pasture the goats for an hour or so, then bring them to the corral. That was, more or less, my life.”

Eventually, Ortega made his way north to Houston. He states, “Well you know, I was completely lost. As you can imagine, I didn’t speak a word of English. When you come for opportunity, you embrace another culture, but, at the same time it’s very sad because, in my case, the Mexican culture, as you know, is very rich, and full of traditions. The little things - food, family - that were very difficult to leave behind.”

Getting connected was on the forefront of Ortega’s mind when he arrived here. He made friends with a guy who played soccer and started playing with him as Ortega was really good at the sport. One of their teammates invited Ortega to a restaurant which was where Ortega started working as a janitor. He says, “I worked nights, cleaning the kitchen, from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., and that’s what I did for a while. That was my first experience adjusting to my new city.” From there, Ortega just kept moving forward and up in the restaurant business.

Thankfully he was able to meet a wonderful woman who understood him and how important his culture is to him. Ortega told Bentz in regards of getting to the point of winning the 2017 James Beard award, “Well, you have incredible people in your life. And I have my wonderful and beautiful wife, Tracy, and she always pushed me to do better. Some years ago she told me, you know, you can do it. I still remember the first time she said, why don’t you cook the food of your own country? I remember thinking, oh my God, that’s a lot of work! I knew from living in the mountains that it was hard work. But at the same time, Tracy said, “Somebody’s going to do it. Why not you?”

“So she put a lot of fire in my guys and, you know, that’s the thing that I pursued...and that is a very rewarding feeling. It’s something I will carry with me. I will also carry the incredible responsibility of the heritage that I inherit from being Mexican, to have the opportunity to cook the wonderful food of my country.”

When asked about living in Houston, Ortega responded with, “Houstonians are not afraid to give a hand to the stranger. To give a hand to the immigrant. Houstonians are very open to that. I remember in the early years, when I came, I was scared. You know, everybody is so different, in every way...and I was thinking, how am I going to fit into that? But you know, the principle of this country, we are full of immigrants. I could not have come to a better city in this wonderful country than Houston. They give you a hand, give you opportunity, and that’s one of the reasons everybody wants to come over here. People are willing to give you a hand, give you a chance to do something with your life.”

Thanks for listening to some of the joy found in the world this past week. If you have feedback about the news only episode, feel free to drop me a line. I’m always looking to improve this podcast. Or if you have stories of good people doing good things in your neighborhood or anywhere, send them to me! I’ve got an email, or tweet at me @joybingepodcast. TELL ME THE GOOD STUFF!


The music for this podcast is "Industrious Ferret" by Kevin MacLeod. Thanks for listening and have a great week!

"Industrious Ferret" Kevin MacLeod ( Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License


Dallas, TX


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